Wandler handmade pink and orange leather mules
with 3" contrast heel and pointed toe
Available at Harvey Nichols: click here
Say the word mules to some people and they'll think of heterotic donkey-horse hybrids that hugely impressed Darwin for - amongst other things - their intelligence, memory, and powers of muscular endurance.
However, for those philosophers on the catwalk, such as myself, with a mildly fetishistic interest in the history of female fashion, the word refers, of course, to one of the loveliest of shoe designs and surely a staple of every well-dressed woman's wardrobe; from celebrated French beauty Mme. La Comtesse d'Olonne, to Candace Bushnell's fictional alter ego Carrie Bradshaw.
Backless and usually (but not always) closed-toe, the mule in its modern form was originally worn only within the bedroom; easy to slip on and easy to slip off. But when members of the French court, including Mme. de Pompadour (official mistress to Louis XV) and Marie Antoinette (the last and most stylish Queen of France), began to wear them en dehors de la boudoir, it kickstarted a new trend that has been with us ever since.
As a man who knows more about women's shoes than most others, Spanish designer Manolo Blahnik once said:
'When a woman wears mules she walks a bit differently. It's very sexy; she has to find her balance. Madame de Pompadour in her mules, walking around Versailles, click! click! click! Can you think of anything more exquisite?'
Perhaps because of their association with the bedroom - and the fact that that they always seem ready to slip off, leaving the foot exposed - mules have an inherent, playful eroticism. We see this, for example, in Fragonard's famous picture The Swing (1767), wherein a young beauty loses a shoe to the delight of her male spectators.
But mules also figure prominently in the slightly darker corners of the porno-aesthetic imagination, as explored by artists such as Manet, for example in his scandalous painting of 1863 entitled Olympia, in which a confident young prostitute stares provocatively and without shame at the viewer, the nakedness of her flesh emphasised by a bootlace tied like a punk accessory around her neck and a pair of yellow silk mules, one of which she has casually kicked off.
Finally, we must of course mention the so-called marabou mules of the 1950s, often made from plastic and decorated with feathers, as worn by sex-kittens everywhere (especially in America). In fact, as archivists at the Met Museum rightly say, no object better epitomises the trashy glamour of the time than the marabou mule.
Amusingly, if you ever buy your groceries on Harold Hill, you'll notice young Essex girls wearing these fluffy symbols of feminine allure as they stroll round Iceland or buy coffee in Greggs.
See: Alice Newell-Hanson, 'In praise of mules, fashion's most perverse shoes', i-D (27 March 2017): click here to read online.
See also a sister post to this one on mules as noble beasts of burden: click here.